A recent US Surgeon General’s report uncovered some staggering facts about the magnitude of America’s drug problem. Several highlights from the report provide surprising context for just how widespread the addiction epidemic has become:
In 2016 more people used prescription painkillers than tobacco. The number of people with substance abuse disorders in America is higher than the number of people diagnosed with cancer every year. One in five Americans can be classified as a binge drinker, which is defined as having four or more drinks on any given occasion. The health, legal, and economic impacts of substance abuse cost the US government over $420 billion a year. Although these facts may be shocking, the Surgeon General advises facing the truth about drug abuse in America so we can start to address this growing problem.
In an interview with National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy discussed his office’s recent report and possible solutions to the drug abuse epidemic.
Shifting Our Views
Although substance use disorders affect more people than diabetes or cancer, the stigma surrounding addiction often leads it to be ignored and neglected compared to other diseases. In order to help people who are suffering from addiction, Dr. Murthy states that we must bring the issue of substance abuse out of the shadows and into the forefront of our community conversations and public policies.
Science has shown that addiction is a physical disease that does not discriminate based on age, race, or socioeconomic status. Drug and alcohol addiction fundamentally changes the way the brain functions, compromising a person’s ability to make decisions and fulfill even the most basic daily responsibilities. Knowing these facts, we should approach addiction with urgency and compassion, similar to how we address other chronic illnesses. However, addiction is often met with stigma and misunderstanding that force it underground and make it harder to face.
Dr. Murthy advises treating drug abuse as a public health crisis on par with cancer or HIV/AIDS and allocating appropriate resources towards education, prevention, and treatment.
Prevention & Treatment Strategies
Preventing and treating substance use disorders begins with education. Many school-based and community programs have implemented evidence-based interventions that teach people how to handle stress and regulate emotions in a safe, healthy way. Similar programs also teach people about the basics of addiction and provide useful instructions on how to refuse drugs and alcohol, even in the face of cravings and temptation. These approaches cut to the heart of addiction and provide skills that support long-term sobriety.
Dr. Murthy states that, although we know of many effective interventions, not enough healthcare facilities, schools, or treatment agencies are implementing them. He calls for a shift in the way we approach addiction and a renewed focus on evidence-based practices that can curb the drug abuse epidemic.
Although news from the Surgeon General’s report may seem dire, Dr. Murthy encourages Americans to stay hopeful. Current treatment and prevention strategies have proven to be very useful in helping communities address the public health crisis of addiction, and a shift in perspective may hold the key to decreasing the rate of drug abuse at the national level.